The Great Stonewall of China

Article excerpt





On July 3, just before boarding Air Force One for the long flight back to Washington, Bill Clinton met in Hong Kong with reporters covering his trip to China. One journalist brought up a statement made by Chinese President Jiang Zemin during a joint news conference a few days earlier. Jiang had mentioned allegations that the Chinese government funneled money into the 1996 American political campaigns. "Absurd and ridiculous," he called the stories. "I think they are sheer fabrications." Jiang added that he had discussed the issue with Clinton, telling him the Chinese government had conducted a "very earnest" investigation into the matter and found nothing.

In Hong Kong, the president was asked for more details. Just what did he and Jiang say to each other during their conversation on campaign finance? Clinton said Jiang was interested in a "narrow" question: "Whether people at high levels in the govemment of China had either sanctioned or participated in the channeling of funds in violation of American law not only into the presidential campaign but into a number of congressional campaigns." Jiang's answer, the president said, was clear-and convincing:

He said they looked into that, and he was, obviously, certain, and I do believe him that he had not ordered or authorized or approved such a thing, and that he could find no evidence that anybody in govemmental authority had done that.

Back home, Dan Burton, chairman of the House Govemment Reform and Oversight Committee and the man who is conducting the congressional investigation into campaign finance, couldn't quite believe his ears. Burton's staff has discovered a substantial body of evidence pointing to Chinese involvement in campaign finance; Jiang, Burton believes, has repeatedly lied when he has claimed the Chinese government played no role. Now, Clinton was saying he believed Jiang. "That distressed me a great deal," Burton says. "For him to just take Jiang's word for it was an indication the president doesn't want any further light shed on this issue." To Burton's team of investigators, it was as if the president were sending a message to those who are tracing foreign money in the '96 campaign: Case closed.

But the reporter at Clinton's news conference had also asked another question. Did Clinton suggest to Jiang that China should cooperate with Justice Department and congressional investigations? "I told him," the president answered, "that if the government of China were contacted by any people doing their appropriate work I would appreciate their telling them whatever they could tell them to help them to resolve that to their satisfaction."

Burton found that even harder to believe. Not only has the government of China refused to cooperate with the investigation; some parts of the government of the United States have been little better. In a recent interview with TAS, Burton pointed to letter after letter he has written to the president, to the secretary of state, and to the national security adviser, asking for their assistance in persuading the Chinese to assist campaign finance investigators. "We have gotten no help from them," Burton says of the administration's response. "None. Zippo." As a result, a critical part of the investigation is stalled, awaiting information that can only come from China.

Burton fully realizes his predicament he is asking the president for help in uncovering information that might point to wrongdoing by the president and his top aides. On top of that, it's not a particularly popular cause; while there has been extensive commentary on Attorney General Janet Reno's refusal to call for an independent counsel to investigate campaign finance, far less attention has been paid to the actions of the administration's foreign policy team-the president himself, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger-in response to requests from Burton's investigators. …